Observation of the Week, 2/9/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Myrmecophila christinae orchid, seen in Mexico by @thibaudaronson!

“I am generally more interested in things that move, but I have long had a sweet spot for orchids,” says Thibaud Aronson. “In fact, it was my mother who first took me out to look at Ophrys species in the Mediterranean prairies when I was about five or six years old. And when I was a bit older, I traveled to a few far-flung places such as Ecuador and Borneo, and honed my tree-climbing skills to look specifically for orchids.”

Those tree-climbing skills were not needed to find and photograph the plant shown above, however. Thibaud was on a scuba diving holiday on the Mexican island of Cozumel after a spell as a research assistant in Yucatan (studying spider monkeys) when he found it.

I saw the Myrmecophila christinae at the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio. It was pretty common in the area, but mostly high up in trees. This individual was pretty low on a branch (I figure it might have fallen in a storm and then been stuck back in the tree by someone, as I have done myself on many occasions).

Thibaud points out that this genus of orchids are particularly fascinating as they are “one of the few orchid genera (off the top of my head, I can only think of Caularthron as another example) to form a mutualistic association with ants.” In fact, the genus name derives from myrmecophily, meaning “ant love.” And ants are almost always found in the hollowed-out “pseudobulbs” of these orchids, where they find shelter. The ants are able to obtain nectar from the plant’s flowers and in return fight off herbivores that might damage the orchid. Fascinatingly, researchers have documented ants residing in Myrmecophila tibicinis plants depositing detritus such as arthropod carcasses and decaying plant matter in the pseudobulbs. That decaying matter can be absorbed by the orchid, giving it crucial minerals in the often nutrient-poor substrate of the trees on which they grow.

Thibaud (above, in Bhutan, where he’ll upload observations from soon!) researched mate choice in birds for this Master’s degree, and is currently deciding on his career path. He’s been contributing his photos of flora and fauna to Flickr and JungleDragon, and recently joined iNat on the recommendation of some friends in Mexico.

The algorithm that suggests likely IDs for photos still amazes me, and has been a tremendous help, in particular with butterflies. I am also incredibly grateful for the very involved community of experts who have helped ID many of my photos in groups I know nothing about, such as hard corals, and even correcting some of my bird identifications! Plus, I greatly appreciate the citizen science aspect of it, and the incredible wealth of information that is being accumulated. And, since I am lucky to travel to some fairly unusual places...I am now happy to do my part, and contribute observations of things that aren’t in the database yet!

- by Tony Iwane

- Several people pointed out this flower’s resemblance to cuttlefish. Do you agree?

- Check out the more than 600 orchid observations have that have been faved by iNat users!

Posted by tiwane tiwane, February 10, 2018 02:08


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